Mentor Me


pooh11
“When did WE become the old ones?” my friend and fellow teacher asked me the other day.

It was a conversation we have had a few times.

We know that ‘technically’ we aren’t exactly old, but professionally we are now the ones with experience on our side. More and more we are finding that younger, less experienced staff are coming to us for advice. We are now expected to mentor, rather than be mentored.

I’ve been thinking a lot about mentors and their importance lately.

My mentor, Mary Murray, died last week. Mary was larger than life and like most people who are larger than life, we all thought she would live forever. She was 78 and she crammed more living into her one lifetime than most people could do in a dozen.

As I read her obituary it occurred to me that she was MY age now when I first met her almost 30 years ago.

I met Mary when I was 18 years old. She hired me to work as a pseudo camp counsellor at an intensive English language immersion program (ELP) for the summer. I had no idea what I was getting myself in for and it seemed, neither did she.

I was, to say the least, not a model employee.

I had no idea what I was doing. I had never even been to camp, much less worked at one. I didn’t understand the 24-hours a day-7 days a week-6 weeks in a row, on-duty all the time culture. I had never lived away from home before and my only other job had been working as a cashier at the mall.

Those first few weeks were miserable.

I missed my family, my friends, my bed, and my dog. I had never shared a room with anyone and suddenly I was in a tiny dorm room with a girl who seemed to know exactly what to do and when to do it.

I remember the first (of many) sing-songs I attended. Singing was like breathing at ELP – it was done regularly and with vigor. I was handed a tambourine and a songbook and told to sing along in front of 300 or so English second language students from around the world.

I looked at that tambourine and I looked at the staff who were singing along like we were at some bizarre version of Woodstock and I thought, “Oh.my.god.This place is frickin’ nuts.”

Why I wasn’t fired in week one is still a mystery to me.

But I wasn’t. And I didn’t quit either. I stuck it out and slowly I started to understand how this strange new world operated. My roommate, Colleen, took me under her wing and helped me to see the fun side of the job.

And Mary stood by me. She advised me, counselled me, and cheered me on. She gently scolded me when I needed it and I needed it often. Not that she really had to scold me. Just catching a raise of her eyebrow was enough to make me want to do better, to be better.

I survived that first summer (barely) and came out of it with my eyes, my mind and my heart opened wider than they had ever been before. (I was also 20 lbs. heavier, but that’s a different story. Turns out I wasn’t “naturally” skinny after all and that cafeteria food was not my friend.)

The next summer I vowed that I wasn’t going back. I moved out west and lived with my parents, but I quickly realized I wanted to go back. I couldn’t have explained why. I just knew I missed it.

After the first month, I called Mary and asked if she thought there were any jobs she thought I could do.

No hesitation. No warnings that things had to be better this time around.

She just said enthusiastically (as she said everything), “Of course! I’d love to have you back!”

She gave me a job in the office where I discovered that I loved managing the paperwork and organizing events. I didn’t know that this would be my strength, but Mary did. She knew that I would be good at it if she gave me the chance. Once again, she helped me, guided me, and nudged me along.

A few years later, after I graduated with my Arts degree, I got married and moved away. I thought I had left that part of my life behind. But life is life and eventually I was back and looking for a job. Once again, Mary said, “Wonderful! I know what you can do” and she offered me a job teaching grammar.

Grammar. Really? But Mary knew me and she trusted that I could do it. And she was right. It was perfect for me. It wasn’t a difficult class to teach (very structured and organized…just the way I like things) and it gave me as chance to see if I actually enjoyed teaching.

And I did. After teaching ESL, I decided to go back to university and get my Education degree. And the rest, as they say, is history.

But Mary was never history for me.

Even though I rarely saw her again after those summers, I never forgot her. Her words and lessons echoed in my ears as I moved throughout my teaching career.

I sent her a Christmas card every year and always tried to include a little note about something I did in my teaching or with my children that year that I could credit back to her.

Mary was a natural mentor. At her funeral and the reception that followed, I met person after person who talked about how Mary had guided them, helped them, mentored them.  She never wanted to create Mini-Marys. Instead, she wanted all of us to be the best we could be. She helped us to find our gifts. She saw our strengths and nurtured them until we were ready to fly on our own.

I know I’ll never be a mentor like Mary, but that’s OK. She wouldn’t want me to be. I know she would want me to be the best ME I can be and to help guide and mentor the next generation of teachers and leaders to be the best they can be.

I’ll do my best, Mary.

mentor blog meme

 

“Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be.” Eric Parsloe, The Oxford School of Coaching & Mentoring

 

 

 

 

About these ads
Categories: Be Brave, education, Humour, Memoir, Mentoring, Raves, Teacher | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

Mental Illness is Not a Choice – A Reminder for Educators

The following is a message I received from a reader who asked me to share.  It is so important as educators that we understand and are compassionate towards children and youth who have mental health issues. Parents and  teachers working together = happier, healthier kids.

Dear fellow educators who need this reminder,

Mental health issues are not like colds or the flu. Those attempting resilience may be overcome at nine, feeling reasonably able to fake it at noon, and done in again at four. Thus, you may not see them in class, while they are crying in guidance, but you may see them “laughing it up with friends at lunch.”

Here’s how it works, in case you missed the class in psych or any of the wellness events held at your school, or haven’t touched base with the other teachers who are amazing and helpful. Depressed kids may have two good days and a bad week and then complete an opera or go back to bed for three weeks. This is not evasion. This is not a choice.

If you also suffer and manage to force yourself to go to work, good for you. If I were your mom, or your union rep, I’d tell you to take better care of yourself. It’s not ok to pretend to be compassionate and understanding while actually judging and valorizing martyrdom, denial, and workaholism. If you don’t want to help, don’t, but don’t pretend you do and then not. It confuses the kids and confusion makes it all much worse because they blame themselves.

Sincerely,

A Concerned Parent

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Newsflash: Girls Are Not Distractions

The school dress code issue has reared its ugly head once again and everyone is acting like this is a brand-new problem.

Seriously? Every generation of adults since the beginning of time has felt that the younger generation dresses inappropriately.

Those kids are too sexual! Too sloppy! Just plain disrespectful!

(Photo: US magazine)

(Madonna – the queen of wearing underwear as outerwear. Photo: US magazine)

The problem now is that we are supposed to have evolved. As a society, we are supposed to understand that girls are not objects and boys are not weak-willed lust-machines controlled by their hormones.

We need to give our children some credit.

Saying that girls need to watch the way they dress because they could distract the boys is insulting to both boys and girls. And it’s sexist. Honestly, I spent most of my school years distracted by boys. And they weren’t scantily dressed boys. Just boys. Cute boys. Funny boys. Bad boys. It’s a wonder I graduated.

In the midst of the debate surrounding “appropriate” dress for students, we have forgotten one important factor – the students themselves.

Feeling like you belong somewhere is a basic human need. Children and teens spend most of their waking hours in school, so it makes sense that they would want to feel like they belonged to their peer group.

Quick. What’s an easy way to feel like you belong to a group?

Dress like the group.

You may not the smartest or the best athlete or the most talented musician, but when you are dressed like your peers, at least you belong to the group in one way.

Some of our dress code rules are so outdated that they were in place when I was in high school.

For example, take the finger-tip rule (please…take it.)

I did some research (ie. I went shopping at the mall) and discovered that it is damn near impossible to find shorts that meet the “fingertip rule”. Most of my shorts (and keep in mind that I am OLD) don’t meet the fingertip rule.

TAYLOR SWIFT in Short Shorts

Yes, school is for learning all about math and reading and writing, but it’s also for learning how to maneuver social situations and for figuring out where you fit in the world. Middle-school kids tend to want to blend in with each other. If you have to wear shorts that are so long your mini-van driving mom wouldn’t wear them, then you are probably not going to feel good about yourself. Unless every other girl in the school is wearing the same dowdy looking shorts, you will probably feel like you are out of the loop.

Another part of the problem is that the rules are generally not enforced equally across the board. What ends up happening instead is that some girls are targeted and told that their outfits are inappropriate, while others sashay by without nary a word said. One day, I watched as a 12-year-old girl had her skirt inspected by a teacher and the principal, in the middle of the hall during the lunch hour.

While she stood there, mortified, a half-dozen girls walked by in similar outfits and none of them were called to task for breaking the dress code. This girl just happened to have a teacher who felt that since the rule was in place, it was her job to enforce it. The girl being called out for her short skirt was also pretty. (And we all know pretty girls distract the boys…so, stop it…stop being so pretty, pretty girls.) I don’t blame her teacher. She was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t. (And don’t even get me started on the male teachers. If they say something, they can be accused of leering at the young girls and if they don’t, they are accused of ignoring the “problem”.)

Girls who develop more quickly than their peers often get dinged with the dress code, too. They may be wearing the same the shirt and skirt set as their peers and yet because they look like curvy young women, they are told their outfit is inappropriate.

I am (generally) a rule follower. If the rule of the school is that your shorts should be a certain length and your belly button shouldn’t show and your underwear should stay under your clothes, then I think the rules should be enforced  for everyone OR the rules should be changed.

In this case, the rules need to be changed.

We are trying to implement 80’s rules in the 21st century and our 21st century kids want nothing of it. They know fashion trends before they hit the newstand and they want to try them out.

Parents can decide if their child’s outfit is appropriate. And yes, some kids will rebel and change their clothes without their parents knowing. That’s part of growing up.  (True story: At my high school, there was a group of Pentecostal girls who would come to school every day in their long jean skirts and their buttoned-up blouses and immediately go into the bathroom and change into skin-tight jeans and t-shirts. Teens will rebel and the sun will set in the west.)

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know a few things for sure:

1. As the mother of two teenage boys, I have never had one of them say, “Geez Mom, I could have made an A in math if it wasn’t for that girl in my class wearing those short shorts.” Both have managed to learn and succeed in school, despite the occasional distraction of a girl in short shorts.

2. As a teacher, I have never said to a parent, “Well, Billy would have passed if it wasn’t for that Jessica and that visible bra strap of hers. There goes his chance of getting into law school.”

3. Making girls feel ashamed of their bodies and telling them that they are “distractions” is wrong.  Let’s stop doing that, shall we?

Girls are people too logo 4

Categories: education, Girl Shaming, Humour, Rants, School Dress Code, Teacher | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Because I’m tired of businessmen telling me how to teach

Money and fame do not automatically make you brilliant and all-knowing.

One would think this would go without saying. And yet…

Why, as a society, are we so quick to follow the “teachings” of the rich and famous?!

Take for example, the idiots people who followed the advice of former Playboy model, now-turned talk show host, Jenny McCarthy and stopped vaccinating their kids. Jenny, going on the advice of a doctor who later turned out to be a liar, said a vaccination caused her son to “catch” autism.  Amazingly, millions of people listened to her. When the doctor was later called out as being a fraud and even Jenny admitted she might have been a little bit wrong, it was too late for all of those little munchkins who missed their annual shots. jenny

Now, personally, I think if you follow medical advice dished out by blondes who strip for money, then you deserve what you get. Unfortunately, these people didn’t get what they deserved…their children did.  And now we have an outbreak of measles sweeping the country. What’s next? Smallpox? Polio? (Oh crap…seriously?)

But I digress.

I’m so tired of people who know nothing about education telling me how I should do my job and how I should be compensated for it.  I mean, really, who knows more about educating children than somebody who has spent their life making money? Someone who probably hasn’t laid eyes on a child he isn’t related to since he went to school. (And yes, I say “he”, because it’s usually the business’men’ who feel they could save public education if people would just listen to all of the great insight and wisdom they have gained while making their money.)

My humble opinion is that these businessmen want schools to pump out good little workers who will keep the economy churning. Whenever you hear one of these successful businessmen slamming education, they always finish with, “If we don’t change things now, we will never be able to compete with those Asian countries who keep beating us on the math assessments!”

None of them ever says, “I hope the children in my country get a well-rounded education that prepares them to be good citizens in their families, their communities and the world.”

Nope. It’s all about keeping the worker-factory churning.

A few months ago, there was an interview in the Atlantic Business Magazine with John Risley, a man who made his fortune in the seafood industry. He’s obviously a brilliant businessman (he’s a self-made billionaire), but it seems his vast wealth has also made him an expert in other areas. In the article, he gave his opinions on everything from politics to education. And he didn’t hold back.

{We} have the worst P-12 education system in the country. That’s not subjective. We have the worst goddamn math scores in the country!” 

(Uh, actually…that IS subjective. It’s the definition of subjective. You can’t call us the “worst” without presenting facts to back it up.)

He goes on to talk about how education could be improved in the province, if the government would just listen to him.

Another businessman with a lot of money thinks everyone should be listening to him as well.  Bill Black, who now has a regular column in the newspaper, made his fortune in the insurance industry.  And despite having no background or training whatsoever in education, he frequently takes to the pages of our local paper to talk about how the education system, and teachers in particular, are completely off track. Of course, he knows how to fix things.

I think everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when it’s presented as expert advice, that’s when I have a problem.

I don’t tend go around shooting my mouth off about how to run an insurance company because I am not an expert on running insurance companies. So, why are these men being given mountains of white space in our local papers to talk about things they know nothing about? Just because someone is an expert in one area doesn’t given them knowledge or expertise in another.

wisconsindailyindependent

wisconsindailyindependent

The leader of this movement of businessmen who think they can fix the world is Bill Gates.

I get it. He’s a genius in the field of technology and an expert in marketing and money-making.

But does he have a background in education? Nope. And yet there he is, leading the way for educational reform in the United States. And things aren’t going well.

I leave you with the words of the wise Barb from the Trailer Park Boys telling the dim, shirtless Randy not to interfere in matters he knows nothing about:

“Randy, you know, when I want advice on cheeseburgers or not wearing a shirt, you’re the person I’ll come to.”(Season 2, Episode 7)

So, fellows, if I want advice on how to catch a lobster or run an insurance company or build a multi-billion dollar empire, I’ll call you.

But if I want advice on how to teach? I think I’ll put my money on teachers.

 

 

Categories: education, Humour, Pop Culture, Rants, Suburban, Teacher | Tags: , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Opting In vs. Opting Out: Yes, you can have my organs and thank you for asking.

keep-calm-and-donate-life-2I have been a potential organ donor for as long as I can remember. It was a no-brainer for me.

If I’m dead, what possibly use could I have for my heart or my skin or my liver? Even if I end up in heaven, with the harps and fluffy clouds and endless wine and ice cream, what do I need with my earthly body?

And if I end up as worm food, well, they don’t really need my eyes do they?  I even agreed to donate my body to science, although I do want to go with a toe tag that says, “Don’t laugh, you cute little med student. You too will be old some day.”

I have always signed my organ donor cards and when my children were born, I signed them up as organ donors as well. God forbid. That was not a decision I wanted to have to make if the worst possible scenario occurred.

When they were old enough, we discussed it and I let them make the choice. They both agreed that organ donation was a gift they wanted to give.

I have seen the benefits of organ donation and the tragedy that occurs when people don’t get the organs they need in time.

Despite all of this, I disagree with my premier’s proposal that organ donation should involve opting out rather than a choice to opt in. They call it reverse onus legislation. The assumption is that you will donate your organs unless you sign yourself out.

Years ago, my cable company sent me a notice saying that unless I opted out, I would be getting six new (crappy) channels and my bill would go up by $5. The government actually stepped in that time and said opting out was not good business practice. Hmmm…it’s wrong to be charged $5 extra for bad cable, but it’s OK to tell people that their organs will be harvested when they die unless they sign a piece of paper?

I am passionate about organ donation, but I think it has to be a personal decision.

Why?

Because when it’s your body, it’s your choice. I believe every individual has the right to choose. The right to choose when to die and how. The right to choose whether to give birth. The right to choose whether to take medication or refuse it.

As human beings, we are blessed/cursed with free will.

For the government to take that away, seems to me, to be a slippery slope. If we let the government take our organs without our consent, where will it end?

There are people who need kidney transplants or else they will die. I mean, technically, we only need one. It seems a little selfish for us to be walking around with both when other people need them to survive. So, should the government be allowed to sweep people off the streets and take their kidneys?  I think we can all agree that that would be wrong.

Organ donation is incredibly important. People are dying when they could be saved IF more people signed their organ donor cards.

I think schools should introduce the concept of organ donation. Make it a part of basic goodness.

I think there should be bigger and better campaigns for organ donation. A full court press telling people how much good they could do if they just ticked off the box saying they would donate their organs. Show them who gets helped.

We should be working our butts off to convince people to voluntarily donate their organs. But as passionate as I am about organ donation (and seriously, you can take anything you want when I’m dead…seriously…pluck my carcass like a vulture…I don’t care, so long as it helps someone else) I am vehemently opposed to taking away someone else’s right to decide what to do with their own body.

Take my organs…please! And thank you for asking.

Donor_Card_1115586c

Categories: organ donation | Tags: , | 4 Comments

Children should memorize their times tables (and other duh! moments in teaching)

duh

The Globe and Mail’s editorial this weekend praised the governments of Ontario and Alberta for making the memorization of the multiplication tables part of the school curriculum.

And well they should.

As I have mentioned many times in this old blog of mine, I am not a fan of  “homework”; however, when I taught grades 4 and 5, I always sent the kids home with multiplication tables at the beginning of the year. I told them that if they could memorize their facts (up to 9×9) their lives would be sooooo much easier and happier that it would more than make up for the time they spent playing flash cards with mom or being quizzed by dad in the car. Once you know your multiplication facts, you know your division facts. Some kids need to spend extra time committing their addition and subtraction facts to memory (especially subtraction…this is often difficult for kids), but it’s worth it.

Students who don’t have their facts down by late elementary often struggle with all the other math concepts. You may know how to find the area of rectangle, but if you can’t multiply the two numbers that make up length by width quickly and accurately, you aren’t going to be able to solve the problem.

Once you have your basic facts locked away in the big file cabinet in your mind, you can move on to doing actual fun math things, like making graphs about who likes baseball vs. hockey (kids love that stuff) .  If you are still using your fingers to subtract seven from 15, it is going to take you a long time to figure out any multi-step math problems.

Of course I think it’s important for kids to understand what it means to multiply and divide and add and subtract. And, as teachers, we teach that. We start teaching that in pre-school and kindergarten with pictures and songs and hands on materials. Parents teach it every time they give their child an allowence or let them count the change in mom’s change purse.

But for pete’s sake.

6×7 = 42. It did when I was a kid. It did when you were a kid. It does now and it will continue to do so in the future.

No one needs to discover that or figure that out. Thank you. That’s been done. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Now…what is 8×4? 6×3? 5+2?

Go!

math 2Important exception to the rule: Everyone learns differently. With lots of practice and repetition, most kids will be able to memorize their facts. BUT some kids can’t memorize their facts due to problems with their working memory or a learning disability or the fact that they just learn differently. If you have tried and tried and tried to help your child memorize their facts but to no avail and now everyone is miserable and dissolves into tears every time the term ‘math’ is mentioned, invest in a nice slim calculator and teach your child how to work it quickly and accurately. Remediate until remediation has been proven ineffective and then compensate.

einstein

 

 

 

 

Categories: Be Brave, education, Humour, Rants, Raves | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Show Me How BIG Your Brave Is: Why Sara Barellis’ “Brave” should be our new national anthem

For a group of people who talk all day for a living, teachers are often a very silent bunch. We save our comments for the staff room and then grumble about how no one listens to our opinion.

Teachers across the United States are in crisis. Morale is at an all time low. Politicians are treating teachers like children who need to be monitored and disciplined with threats of job loss and salary reductions.

It’s disgraceful.

As a Canadian teacher, I know that we have it better than our friends to the south, but I can see us headed in that direction and it scares the hell out of me.

Business people with no links or background to education are being tapped by politicians to find ways to “fix” our education “crisis”.

Forgive me, but we are neither broken nor in a crisis. Yes, there are things we can improve upon. And guess what? Most of us know exactly what needs to be done. Most of us have multiple degrees in everything from child development to curriculum and evaluation. We do regular professional development on everything from reading and math to bullying and nutrition. We can help make things better. We need money and time to make positive changes, not outside “experts”.

But before we can help others, teachers need to find the courage to stop whispering and start speaking up. Our students want to look up to us. They want us to be role models. We need to model bravery so that they can grow up to be brave as well.

We live in a world where people overshare all the time. Videos and pictures that you might have once only shared with family and friends are now put on the internet for the world to comment on. But despite all of this new ‘openness‘,  I don’t think it’s made us any braver.

We still watch what we say and worry about what people will think, what they might say. What if someone doesn’t agree with me or doesn’t approve of what I say? What if they get mad at me? What IF not everyone likes me???

Guess what? The world will keep spinning. You will continue to breathe. Life will go on. And you will be better for having spoken your mind. The world will be better.

Being brave doesn’t mean you have to rescue a baby from a burning building. It could be as simple as standing up for a colleague when they are being harrassed or supporting a student when they need someone in their corner. Bravery often shows itself in simple acts of kindness.

I stopped watching music videos sometime after Michael Jackson’s Thriller because I have no interest in seeing women dance around half-dressed while men sing about degrading them. But this? Brave is the best video, the best song, the best…everything I have seen in a long time. 

It’s not deep or complicated or edgy. It’s just honest and true and fun.

If this song can’t be our new national anthem, let’s make it our new mantra.

Watch it, love it, live it.  I want to see you be brave.

“Brave”

You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up

Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

I just want to see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

Everybody’s been there,
Everybody’s been stared down by the enemy
Fallen for the fear
And done some disappearing,
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, just stop holding your tongue

Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

And since your history of silence
Won’t do you any good,
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
See you be brave

Categories: Be Brave, education, Humour, Pop Culture, Princess, Raves, Teacher | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Third Grade Teacher in North Carolina: What It Is Like To Teach in My State

suburbanprincessteacher:

A heart-breaking look at teaching in the U.S. I am deathly afraid that Canada is headed down this path.

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

This third grade teacher responded to the post and comments about the heavy emphasis on testing students in third grade.

She wrote:

I thought that maybe a third grade teacher in NC should weigh in on this. I can only speak for what is occurring in my county, but here is what I am up against: I have to complete all reading 3D data within an approximate 2 week period. This involves a three minute fill in the blank test (whole class), three one minute timed reads with three one minute retells of each read, and a diagnosis of a students independent reading level by testing their reading, writing, and oral comprehension of leveled passages. The writing consists of two questions which are scored against a rubric and you must take the LOWER of the two scores. This must be completed on every student in my class.

In addition, our…

View original 1,105 more words

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Get scared, then be brave – Why teachers need to step outside their comfort zones.

Last weekend I went skiing.

ski_fall

I always have a romanticized view of what my ski day will look like. I see myself gliding down the hill, smiling as I whoosh by the other skiers. Then lounging in the lodge with a cold drink looking wind-swept, yet healthy and robust.

Instead, my ski day often looks like it did this past weekend: stand in line for rentals while people cut in line in front of me, making me irritated and annoyed before I’ve even put on my boots.

Then, wait in line for what seems like forever before getting on the chair lift to take me to the top of the mountain, which suddenly seems humongous.

I start to panic the closer to the top I get and I’m terrified to get off the chair lift for fear that my poles will get stuck or that I’ll fall on my face or god forbid, get dragged back down the hill by my belt-loops.

My fear only escalates when I realize I have to go down the hill wearing these stupid toboggans on my feet. The entire time I am skiing, I am talking to myself, “You can do it. You can do it. Not going to die today. Nope. Not today.”

I am terrified probably 90% of the day when I am skiing.

I can only liken it to giving birth – it’s a horrible,messy,  terrifying experience, only made bearable by the exhilaration you feel when you finish successfully.

But despite my fears, I keep pushing myself to do it.

Why?do-one-thing-every-day

As adults, we rarely do things of our own free will that terrify us. We work very hard to build lives that are comfortable, that allow us to do things that we are good at, and we generally avoid those things that have not proven to be our strong suits.

Kids don’t have that option in school.

They are forced to take all subjects…whether they have an aptitude for them or not.

Reading is hard for you? Oh well! You better buckle down and just do it.

Math makes you break out into a cold sweat? Too bad! Everybody has to do math. Get a move on!

I think sometimes we, as teachers, forget that it’s hard to do things that are…well…hard.

When we force ourselves to do something outside of our comfort zone, I think it gives us a little more empathy and understanding for the child who is terrified of presenting in front of the class or the teen who refuses to read aloud because it’s just too embarrassing.

One time, when I was teaching English as a Second Language to university students who were almost unilingually French, I decided to take a French course.

Now, my French is…autrocious. It really is. It’s awful. But I took the course once a week at night and then during the day, I taught my French students English.

Understandably they did not want to speak aloud because they were afraid that others would make fun of their poor English.

So, one day, I stepped outside of my English-immersion-only philosophy, and I asked the students if they would help me with the oral presentation I had to do in French that night.

They all watched as I struggled to make it through my presentation. Some of them laughed (not maliciously, they just couldn’t help it…I was that bad), most winced, and some smiled encouragingly. When I was all done, they jumped on the opportunity to help me with my grammar and pronunciation.

The mood of the class changed after that day. My students saw that it was OK to make mistakes. They saw that I wasn’t perfect and that I certainly didn’t expect them to be either.

If we want our students to take risks, then we need to be prepared to do so ourselves.

So, take a Spanish class, ski down a hill, jump of a cliff (into the water, of course…don’t be an idiot). Take a chance. Risk looking silly.

Remember what it feels like to be scared

and then

be

brave.

Categories: education, Humour, Teacher | Tags: , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

How to Solve our Country’s Math “Problem”

The Globe and Mail recently featured a top fold, bold-font headline that screamed: “THE FIGHT TO SOLVE OUR MATH PROBLEM”!

I was disappointed to see there was no picture attached to this headline. I was hoping for a shot of an army of stern-looking math teachers, holding pencils and books, brought in by the government to get our kids back to basicsChicken-Little_Sky-is-Falling

The PISA results were released on December 4 and the hand-wringing and head-shaking began almost immediately. In case you hadn’t heard the earth-shattering news, our Canadian students dropped from 10th place in 2003 to 15th spot in 2012. The PISA is a survey (standardized test) of more 510,000 15-year-olds from 65 participating economies that focuses on mathematics.

John Manley, President and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, ominously declared, ““This is on the scale of a national emergency.”

OMG! Call in the Math Army! This is worse than the ice storm of 1998!

So scary...just like our math scores. Hold me, John Manley.

So scary…just like our math scores. Hold me, John Manley.

Now, Mr. Manley, sir, I realize you are trying to help parents who want nothing more than to ensure that little Billy won’t be living in their basement (probably playing Call of Duty 16) when he’s 35. BUT, jeez Louise! It’s ONE test! Of 15-year-olds!

Don’t get me wrong. I love and respect 15-year-olds. My youngest child is 15-years-old. My other son was just recently 15.

I, myself (believe it or not), was once 15.

Priority#3 when I was 15. Cannot include picture of French boyfriend, who was priority #1, due to silly privacy laws.

Priority#3 when I was 15 – making sure I never ran out of Silver City Pink lipstick. Cannot include picture of French boyfriend, who was priority #1, due to silly privacy laws.

I remember being 15. Acing my math test was important, but it wasn’t my top priority.

I’m not saying the PISA results mean nothing. They do. They are a great snapshot of how our 15-year-olds are able to demonstrate some of their math understanding compared to kids the same age around the world.

But we teach so much more than math in our schools these days. We actually teach more than just academics. And this is the problem. We have too many things on our plate.

Let’s start with math, seeing as it’s a national emergency and all.

In my province, there are 7 strands of math that have to be covered over the course of the grade 4 year. These include everything from number sense to graphing to probability. Within each of these strands are a variety of specific outcomes. Each carries the same amount of weight on a report card. At last count there were 65 specific outcomes. If you are in grade 4, learning your multiplication facts up to 9 is 1 of those.

It’s not that teachers don’t know how to teach basic mathematical operations and number sense. (Trust me. We do. If I have to do one more in-service on how to teach multiplication, I will poke my eyes out with hot sticks.)

The problem is that there are sooooo many other things to teach that eventually you have to move on. If the kids don’t know their math facts, oh well, because now it’s time to teach them how to read a circle graph. With 65 outcomes to get through, there isn’t a lot of time for dilly-dallying.

And this overcrowded curriculum doesn’t apply just to math.

Schools today are expected to do the work that homes, churches and community groups did years ago.

SnapchatWe are now expected to teach children basic morality, like: thou shalt not post naked pictures of your classmate on the internet.

We are expected to feed kids who don’t get a proper breakfast at home.

We are somehow responsible for solving the childhood obesity problem, despite the fact that the government keeps cutting our phys.ed. programs.

There are even calls for schools to offer nature and gardening workshops (during school time) because children are not getting outdoor time when they get home. It appears their parents are incapable of prying their offspring’s little eyes of the screens and chubby fingers off the controllers and keyboards long enough for them to get outside and blow the stink off.

The tipping point for me occurred the other day when I heard a mother being interviewed on the radio. She was upset because her teenage daughter had gotten involved in prostitution. I was feeling sympathetic to her plight until she said, “The schools really need to be doing more to prevent this from happening.”

Seriously?!

SERIOUSLY?!!!

Let me see if I understand correctly…not only am I expected to teach reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, feed the hungry, and instil basic morality, but now you want me to put a stop to the world’s oldest profession?!

UNCLE!302_businessman_teacher_or_officeworker_surrendering_and_waving_the_white_flag

I’m waving the white flag.

#Just.can’t.do.it.all.anymore.

If the general public wants improved math scores, then we need to prioritize and delegate.

Families, community groups, and government organizations need to pick up the slack that our schools have slowly absorbed over the years.

The minute you start watering down a curriculum by adding in everything but the kitchen sink, you end up with a system that is mediocre at best.

The Asian schools that beat the pants off our kids in the PISA?

I guarantee you this: they are not spending their days talking about the dangers of SnapChat, while they pass out juice boxes and granola bars. They are doing kill and drill, all day long and then far into the night with tutors and special math schools.

Do I want their education system in my country? No. But don’t compare their math scores to mine, saying it’s apples to apples. If you want me to focus more on apples, just say the word. But you’ll need to get some of the other fruit out of my basket first.

are-you-smarter-300x225

Categories: education, Teacher | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com. The Adventure Journal Theme.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 440 other followers